Travel,  Western Pennsylvania

Midnight Train to Chicago


Jonathan and I went to Chicago for a week.

Jonathan travelled to the Windy City for a work conference, and I tagged along for the tourist stuff.

I was the most touristy tourist ever! I rode on the architecture river boat tour, 2 bus tours, and the brand-new giant ferris wheel at the Navy Pier. We also ate at TWO deep dish pizza restaurants, as well as the Billy Goat Tavern on the Magnificent Mile (which is the subject of a famous Saturday Night Live skit).

LOL, the Cubs were playing the Pirates in Pittsburgh during the first few nights of our trip. So, when we left Pittsburgh last Friday, we passed tons of folks wearing Cubs apparel. Last Saturday, we sat in the restaurant on the ground floor of the Chicago Tribune building and watched a game played in PNC Park.

We’re actually back in New Kensington now.

Our trip began last Friday night in a Amtrak station frazzled by a engine fire, a stranded passenger train, a rescue from Norfolk Southern, another train stopped by debris on the track, and frustrated passengers.  And this was all before we left Pittsburgh.


You can board on two different Amtrak routes at Pittsburgh. The Pennsylvanian runs between Pittsburgh and New York City, with a crew change in Philadelphia.  The Capitol Limited runs between Washington, D.C. and Chicago, with a crew change in Pittsburgh.

In the past, Jonathan and I rode on the Pennsylvanian for trips to NYC. We rode the on the Capitol Limited for trips to Washington. And we also rode on the Capitol Limited to Chicago as the first leg of longer trips out west.


Jonathan and I both went to work last Friday, and we left for our trip after work. We had a respectable thunderstorm in Pittsburgh, and so did many other places in Western PA.

Last week’s trip on the Capitol Limited to Chicago was scheduled to leave shortly before midnight Friday. We arrived at the station about 2 hours early. (Jonathan loves to watch trains, and we showed up extra early to do just this. Many freight trains pass the Pittsburgh Amtrak station.)

The station was full of people waiting to pick up loved ones from The Pennsylvanian’s return trip from New York City.  The Pennsylvanian was late.

Why? Well, we soon learned that the Pennsylvanian’s engine caught fire near Altoona. The train lost its air conditioning and the toilets no longer worked.

(I later spoke with an older man who had ridden the Pennsylvanian that night from Lancaster to Pittsburgh, and waited in Pittsburgh to ride the Capitol Limited to his new home in Ohio. He told me that when the Pennsylvanian’s engine burned out, someone ran down the aisle yelling “Fire!,” and the train cars all carried the burning smell. The crew passed out the remaining food and drink from the snack car. Coincidentally, this all happened during a thunderstorm. They were stranded until Norfolk Southern rescued them.)

An hour after we arrived at the Pittsburgh station, two Norfolk Southern freight engines towed the Pennsylvanian into the station.

All of the Pennsylvanian passengers and their family left, except the ones who were connecting in Pittsburgh to the Capitol Limited.

We all learned that the Capitol Limited would be a half hour late. Then an hour late.

We sat by the tracks, and we saw a train heading towards us.

It was a freight train. Not the Capitol Limited.

Another half hour passed. Another freight train passed us.

The station made an announcement. One of the storms had blown tree debris onto the tracks just outside of Pittsburgh.

The Amtrak employees passed out bottled water to the crowd. A few people bitched.

The Capitol Limited finally showed up, and we boarded at about 2:45. Jonathan and I had tickets for a sleeping car, so we settled into our little bunks on the train.

When I awoke, the sun was up and we were halfway through Ohio.

The train pulled into Union Station in Chicago a bit later than scheduled, but at least we were in Chicago.

I posted above a photo that Jonathan took inside of Union Station several years ago.

Here’s a spoiler about the end of our trip: Jonathan and I got back into Pittsburgh two hours late today. Another storm blew debris onto the track in front of the Capitol Limited, this time outside of Toledo, Ohio. (We had no trouble with wind during our time in the Windy City, though!)